Famous firsts: Lesser Key's Brett Fanger

Lesser Key (from left): Brett Fanger, Paul D'Amour, Justin Hanson and Andrew Zamudio
Lesser Key (from left): Brett Fanger, Paul D'Amour, Justin Hanson and Andrew Zamudio

The Los Angeles-based hard rock/prog quartet Lesser Key, featuring guitarist Brett Fanger, singer Andrew Zamudio, drummer Justin Hanson and ex-Tool bassist Paul D'Amour, recently released their debut EP, produced by noted board woman Sylvia Massey (Tool, System Of A Down, Johnny Cash).

The band is currently on the road in the US until late August, when they play a gig at the O2 Academy, Islington, before hitting the Reading and Leeds Festivals. Between shows, guitarist Brett Fanger sat down with MusicRadar for a little something we like to call Famous Firsts.

What was your first guitar, and how old were you when you got it?

"It was a beginner's acoustic that had terrible action. It had what felt like an inch between the fretboard and the strings. It was intimidating to play, so I would just hold it and pluck the strings and watch music videos. I got it when I was around eight or nine from my grandmother."

What was the first band - or album - that made you want to be a guitarist?

"First two albums I ever owned were Nirvana's From The Muddy Banks Of The Wiskah and Marilyn Manson's Smells Like Children. Those two records gave me a pretty good first-time experience with rock music. It was the '90s, and I was watching MTV and Much Music like everyone else, so there was also all that content being thrown at me."

What was the first guitar solo you learned how to play? How long did it take you to play it "correctly"?

"I don't think I've learned learned to play a whole guitar solo correctly. I like learning riffs, but I'm not the type of player who sits down and tries to get every note right. I usually try to learn the licks that I like the most from a song, and then I jam on ideas and see if I can incorporate what I learned with what I'm creating.

"If there was one solo that I guess I really paid close attention to, it was Radiohead's Paranoid Android. When I heard that solo for the first time, my mind was blown. It really opened my world to using effects with my playing, and it also taught me that solos can be a kind of abstract part that help serve the song rather than shining the spotlight on a guitarist's amazing shredding powers. When I found music without that chromosome, so to speak, I was hooked."

What was your first really good guitar and amp?

"My dad bought me a Les Paul Standard and a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier. Thanks, Pops!"

What was the first band you were in?

"The drummer of Lesser Key [Justin Hanson] and I had a band called Blessed October when we were in eighth grade. We played loud and had outdoor shows at our houses and friends' houses. We would always get the cops called on us, but we knew that would happen. It was amazing! I really cherish those times for their moments of pour love for the music."

What was the first song you wrote that you thought was great?

"I never really wrote whole songs before I was in Lesser Key. I was always writing riffs and some lyrics, but nothing that turned into a song until I got into the band. Once we started writing together, songs became to come together. The one song that really stood out and made me proud to say, "Hey, my band wrote that" was In Passing Through off our debut EP."

What was the first guitar you got that made you feel as though you had found "your sound"?

"My SG, in combination with my '74 Marshall Super Bass."

When was the first time you played to a big audience? What was that experience like?

"I played my high school talent show - twice. The first time was during my sophomore year, and I played it another time my senior year. There were a good 200 people in the auditorium. I played an original song with Justin the first time and a duet acoustic song my senior year. I remember having a lot of fun rehearsing and then playing the show. The feeling of playing in front of people was an instant rush. I will always being hooked on that."

Who was the first guitar hero of yours that you got a chance to meet?

"Nels Cline was the first guitar hero I got to meet. I met him at a Wilco concert in Vermont, around the time of their Sky Blue Sky release. I snuck in through the back because it was an open-air concert, and I got there early. The band's buses were back there, too, and guess who was sitting there by himself waiting to soundcheck? I chatted with him about guitars and what the show would be like. He said "a sea of Caucasians." I thought that was hilarious. Jeff Tweedy soon came out of the bus, and Nels actually introduced me to him as his friend. I died that day." [Laughs]

What was the first thing you bought when you got your first big check from playing music?

"What paycheck? You actually get paid for this?" [Laughs]

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.